Filing for Bankruptcy in Pennsylvania without an Attorney
How do I file bankruptcy myself in PA? We’re often asked how to file bankruptcy without a lawyer in Pennsylvania. The American Bankruptcy Institute reported that 10,000 people filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy themselves (called filing “pro se”) from 2010-2016. Only 240 of them—barely 2%—were successful, meaning, they completed their plan and got their debt discharged. In any kind of bankruptcy case, the chances of a satisfying and successful outcome are tied to the skill of your attorney.
By using a Philadelphia bankruptcy lawyer who is very familiar with the law, you will find yourself better protected than if you file for bankruptcy on your own in Pennsylvania. Ask yourself, “Would I want to represent myself in a personal injury action against an insurance company”? There is a lot at stake in that sort of lawsuit, just as there is a lot at stake when filing bankruptcy.
However, if the answer is yes, you are comfortable representing yourself, read on to find out how to file for bankruptcy in Pennsylvania.
Considering filing bankruptcy on your own in PA? You’ll need to know all this–and more:
- Is bankruptcy the right move for you?
- Do you financially need to file bankruptcy? If so –
- Should you file under Chapter 7 or under Chapter 13?
- Can you properly fill in all the answers to the questions on all of the bankruptcy schedules?
- Can you fill in the type and value on the schedule of assets, the legal document describing your bank accounts, cameras, jewelry, cars, retirement plans, collectibles, computers, guns, jewelry, retirement accounts, life insurance, personal injury cases, security deposits, property you gave someone else, and many other qualifying items?
- Can you complete a schedule of debts, including priority, secured, and unsecured debts, and the proper classification of each debt?
- Do you know the allowed exemptions for the property you own?
- Should you use Pennsylvania or Federal bankruptcy exemptions?
- Can you complete the means test? That requires scheduling your last six months income as defined by law and testing to see if you are under the Pennsylvania Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy means test or does your income fall over the means test.
- Schedules of all Income and all Expenses
- Can you complete a Statement of Financial Affairs covering the past several years?
- Have you complied with the pre-bankruptcy filing requirements?
- Have you complied with the post-bankruptcy debtor education course?
Common Mistakes when Filing for Bankruptcy without an Attorney in PA
I will discuss in detail bankruptcy cases where a person filed on their own without knowing how to file bankruptcy in PA, and wound up with substantial problems as a result of now knowing PA bankruptcy laws yet representing themselves:
- A person filed bankruptcy on their own and chose to file under Chapter 7 instead of Chapter 13. The individual was in foreclosure and wanted to get caught up on the mortgage and the car payments. Since the person chose Chapter 7, the full arrears on the mortgage had to be paid up to date immediately. The right approach would have been to file Chapter 13 and set up the Chapter 13 plan to protect the home by repaying the missed mortgage payments and auto loan payments.
- An individual filed a Chapter 7 case without realizing that she could lose her property. She did not have the income to pay back all her debt. However, she did own a house, almost free and clear with only a small mortgage balance. By choosing to file under Chapter 7, the trustee is able to sell the property. Had a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition and plan been filled, the home could be saved without a problem and the woman would only have been required to pay back her bills over 5 years with no interest, which she had the ability to do.
- A person filed under Chapter 13 to pay their bills back. This mortgage was up to date and he did not have substantial equity in the property. Based on his income and expenses, he should have filed under Chapter 7. There was no need for him to be in a plan in which he repays his bills. His mortgage was up to date. Had he spoken to a bankruptcy lawyer prior to filing he could have filed under Chapter 7 and not have been required to be in a plan making payments on his unsecured bills?
- A person filed under Chapter 7 bankruptcy. There was a substantial amount of money owed on the car, much more than what the car was worth. The vehicle had been purchased more than two and a half years earlier. The person wanted to keep the car. He would have been better off filing under Chapter 13. First of all, he could have reduced the debt on the car to almost half of the loan balance due to the current value of the car. Second, he could have reduced the interest rate from about 18% down to 6%. Third, he could have paid off the reduced loan balance and reduced interest rate over a number of years without having to pay back the credit cards and personal loans.
In a Chapter 13 case, where you make payments, you must calculate the Chapter 13 plan based on your situation and you must break down who the trustee must pay first, second, third, etc. and how much should be paid to each creditor. When people try to file Chapter 13 on their own, 98% fail to get a discharge of their debts.
Steps to Take when Filing Bankruptcy in PA without an Attorney
When you file a Bankruptcy you need to appear before the trustee at your mandatory section 341 meeting of creditors whether your bankruptcy is filed under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. At the meeting of creditors, the trustee will examine your paperwork to make sure that every form has been properly completed, and all required documentation has been supplied.
In addition, you want to be sure that you have chosen and claimed all of the proper exemptions to protect your real estate, your personal property, and other assets. The trustee will then ask you questions based on the paperwork filed with the Court, the documentation that has been supplied, and any outside sources the trustee checks and uses to verify the correctness of all of your answers.
The trustee will review documents such as copies of tax returns, mortgage balances, car papers, bank account statements, life insurance statements, etc. A meeting of creditors tends to take longer when filing by yourself as the trustee tends to question people longer under oath due to all of the required paperwork not usually being in order.
Advantages of Working with an Attorney when Filing for Bankruptcy in PA
The hiring of an experienced bankruptcy lawyer can be the best investment you ever make – saving you many many thousands of dollars.
If bankruptcy is not the right move, or if it will cause you a problem, then a bankruptcy lawyer will tell you that you should not file bankruptcy at the present time and how to legally plan out what to do. If you don’t have the money to file bankruptcy right away, there are good lawyers who will give you time to make payments if you are filing a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy while starting to work for you right away, or who will file a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy even if you have little money to pay prior to filing. A knowledgeable Consumer Bankruptcy lawyer knows you don’t have a lot of money and will offer a free consultation. He or she can also help you figure out how to file Bankruptcy and what to do financially.
What Can Go Wrong?
An improperly filed bankruptcy can cause a person to lose everything that he or she owns whereas a bankruptcy filed with an experienced bankruptcy lawyer will in many cases just cause you to lose all of your debts.
When you file for bankruptcy without a lawyer in Pennsylvania you face a lot of risks you might not have expected. When you have an Attorney representing you, the attorney fills out all of the forms based on the information you supply to your lawyer and your meeting of creditors tends to be quicker and better prepared for.
We Can Help You File For Bankruptcy in PA
While you may ask how to file for bankruptcy without a lawyer in Pennsylvania, we believe you will be glad you picked up the telephone to call us. As one client that we filed for said to us, “You are the best thing that ever happened to me.”She also said the worst mistake she made was waiting over six months to come to our office when she would have been put at ease had she come in much earlier.
Our office has helped over 12,000 individuals and families in the Philadelphia area get a fresh start by filing for bankruptcy and debt relief in PA. You can call The Law Offices of David M. Offen at (215) 625-9600. We will guide you on how to get out of your debts in Pennsylvania and get you a fresh start!